Colel Chabad believes that no one — no matter their age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, or religious observance — should ever go hungry. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who was also the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, established Colel Chabad in 1788. Since its creation, their central mission of providing material support to Isrealites in need hasn’t changed.
Colel Chabad is the oldest operating tzedakah network in Israel. Their expansive outreach is possible because of the partnerships they form with various municipal governments throughout Israel, their volunteers, and individuals from around the world that donate to their cause. Currently, they work with 48 municipalities that help them take charge of eliminating hunger across all of Israel.
Food plays a powerful role in our lives. Beyond giving us the sustenance we need to survive, it’s also the basis of many important cultural traditions and community connections. However, there are still far too many individuals and families without equal access to food. In Israel, nearly 25 percent of the population experiences food insecurity. Of that group, 40 percent is considered to be living with severe hunger.
These numbers have increased dramatically following the impact of COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable members of the population. Colel Chabad already serves individuals who have experienced unimaginable hardships throughout their lifetimes — the indigent, widows, Holocaust survivors, the chronically ill — and the pandemic only continues to compromise the elderly, individuals with prior medical conditions, and the poor.
The Ministry of Welfare recognized how critical it was to reach out to the increased number of people who’ve been affected by COVID-19, so they helped Colel Chabad rapidly scale up their infrastructure to expand their outreach. Instead of providing food to 3,000 families, they were able to deliver food and staples to over 50,000 families in need and 112,500 seniors that are currently under shelter-in-place orders.
In addition to supporting those affected by the coronavirus, below is a list of other initiatives that allow Colel Chabad to continue feeding Israel’s poorest and most vulnerable.
United Soup Kitchens
These 22 beautiful restaurants are the heart and soul of Colel Chabad. Their soup kitchens serve over one million meals annually, both on and off their premises. Meal costs are completely covered by donations, so guests are encouraged to come for a warm smile and a fresh, delicious full-course meal. For guests with physical limitations, Colel Chabad also has a ‘Meals on Wheels’ program that operates 365 days a year.
Nutrition is a top priority at Colel Chabad. While they feed many people through their soup kitchens, they also package and deliver groceries to families who cannot financially support themselves. Colel Chabad partners with the Blavatnik Food Bank to feed over 8,000 families across Israel. During Rosh Hashanah and Passover, an additional 20,000 families receive food and supplies. Colel Chabad also empowers families to shop for their own food and clothing by providing them with holiday shopping vouchers.
Tens of thousands of people travel to Israel every year in search of an inspiring, spiritual experience. Colel Chabad encourages these tourists to volunteer for their Pantry Packers program in Jerusalem as part of their search for meaning. After watching a 90-minute video about the true meaning of tzedakah, these volunteers join an assembly line where they bag and vacuum seal foods like beans and lentils, which are then sent to a warehouse and distributed to families in need.
The act of giving tzedakah (or donating money to those in need) is an important tradition for Jewish families. In addition to giving to synagogues and other charitable organizations, some families also keep a Colel Chabad Pushka (or coin box) in their homes. This is a 232-year-old tradition that is still going strong today. Families either have one pushka they keep in a high-traffic area of their home or multiple coin boxes they keep in places like their kitchen, study, and in each of their children’s rooms. Once the coin boxes are full, people tally up the total and send a check with the full amount to Colel Chabad. If you don’t already have one, they are free on their website.
Additionally, Colel Chabad also has the capacity to take donations from citizens living in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. If you want to make a donation, you can do so through their website.
Colel Chabad is one of the oldest and largest charitable organizations in Israel, but they still have so much to accomplish. Their future plans include opening more supermarkets in impoverished neighborhoods, building additional soup kitchens, expanding their monthly food deliveries, and increasing their holiday food distribution program.
Colel Chabad is an organization that has been close to my heart for so many years, and I am proud to support such an incredible initiative. If you feel it in your heart to give to this cause, you can rest assured knowing your life-saving donation will forever change the lives of those in need.
Originally published to Medium on June 9th, 2020.